Democrats should forego post-election panic, find new leaders

The Democrats are in trouble.  Next year, they won’t control either the presidency or the Congress.  Only six states will have both a Democratic governor and legislature.  In eighteen more, they will hold at least one house of the legislature.

In Maine, the Democrats control the House with a GOP governor and Senate.

The message is not difficult.  What the Democrats have been doing doesn’t work.  The party needs to renew its appeal to voters.  They have taken for granted historic constituencies: workers, minorities, and youth.

Democratic voters are usually willing to support equal rights for all.  But each group in the coalition has its core issues, which may only get lip service while a few current issues are pushed.

An Ohio Democratic leader said, “people in the heartland thought the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job.”

Because the recession, technology and trade have deprived so many workers of their job security, the rote recital of traditional Democratic promises has lost its appeal.  The party’s proposals have not insulated people from unemployment and worry.

Voters could easily find the Democrats too closely aligned with the Wall Street interests that they associated with the greed and excesses that brought on the recession.

Bernie Sanders responded to this concern, but the party’s establishment believed its candidate, a woman with ties to minority groups and committed to traditional policies would beat the dangerous and irresponsible Donald Trump.  That was a mistake.

The Democrats will survive just as both parties have recovered after calamitous defeats.  But it will not govern if it does not break with its recent past.

That starts with the party itself.  Unlike this year, the organization must remain neutral among its leaders.  Now it must identify and support new faces to head its federal and state election tickets.  Preparing for the 2018 mid-term elections, when the party should pick up seats in Congress, begins now.

The Democratic National Committee chair should be a full-time job.  Tacking it onto being a member of Congress implies the Democratic Party is a part-time organization.  It needs an articulate and hard worker to serve as its spokesperson while the party is in the wilderness.

The House Democrats have again selected Nancy Pelosi as their leader, more out of sentiment than common sense.  She did not provide the spark for major House gains this year and is obviously ill at ease behind a microphone.  She represents a wealthy California district, perhaps putting her out of touch with average people.

In the Senate, Democrats picked New York’s Chuck Schumer.  Wall Street is his constituency, and he takes care of it.

Pelosi and Schumer hail from the two coasts.  Meanwhile, the GOP carried Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, once thought to be solidly Democratic states.  Party leadership candidates from mid-America were turned aside in both houses.

In contrast, the GOP leaders, now in charge of both houses, come from Kentucky and Wisconsin.

These days, Democrats despair over their losses, but cling to business as usual.  Given their wipeout, the elections should have forced the party into a complete renewal.

It is easy to gain the impression that Democratic office holders want to keep their seats more than take the risks and offer the bold initiatives necessary to regain at least some political leadership.

Being a leader means being willing to take risks.  In seeking to recover and renew their agenda, Democrats should focus more on making their renewed case rather than clinging to their seats.

Loretta Lynch, the departing Attorney-General, summed it up: “We have to work for what we want and we have to be committed and we have to keep our voices raised to make sure that people who are in power know that these are important issues.”

Oddly, it’s Donald Trump who ran a risky campaign.  He took highly controversial and unconventional positions, not seeming to care about their electoral effect.  His obvious willingness to say what many thought was outrageous might have convinced many voters that he really would bring change.

Their defeat has led Democrats and other progressives to wring their hands or even panic about the coming GOP regime.  Instead of dithering and complaining about Trump, they should get to work and start rebuilding the alternative for the coming elections.

Where are the new leaders – the innovative, bold and risk-taking Democratic candidates needed for the 2018 election?

In Maine, aspirants for the Democratic nomination for governor should start speaking out now.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.